Liveable cities

Liveability is all those things that make a city enjoyable to live in. This includes:

  • the built and natural environments
  • economic success
  • social stability and equity
  • education and employment opportunity
  • a variety of cultural, entertainment and recreation options.
Parkland next to a river with bridges in the background

Water plays a vital role in creating a liveable city.


Liveability means something different to everybody. People's perceptions of liveability vary according to their cultural, social and economic backgrounds.

How we value water connects us with our environment and each other.

Living in a clean, safe environment

Clean waterways can make us feel better about where we live. We like the water near us to:

  • be safe
  • have no litter
  • look and smell nice
  • have plants growing nearby
  • be a home for animals
  • look inviting to swim in.


Managing water and protecting the environment is very important to us. We play a huge role in contributing to healthy waterways.

Learn more about our role in Enhancing the liveability of our cities.

Changing values

As Sydney has grown over time, our value of water in the environment has changed.

Creek and rivers that were natural sources of clean water may have been turned into:

  • canals for transport of goods and people

  • underground sewers redirected around houses and industry

  • stormwater drains to help reduce the impact of flooding.

Industry around Alexandria Canal in the 1940s

Alexandria Canal (facing north) was used for industry in the 1940s. Source: State Library NSW

Today, with improving technologies to manage water, we value creeks and rivers differently. We want them to:

  • be a place for recreation 

  • look like natural environments

  • provide habitat for animals.

Vegetation around Alexandria Canal

Today Alexandria Canal is a recreational space.

Learn more about our current projects.

Water for celebration

What role does water play when you celebrate?

Often families and communities gather around water to celebrate milestones in life and special dates of the year.

Water can be an important part of many cultural traditions such as:

  • Songkran - This festival in Thailand, originally a Hindu celebration, is an enormous water fight party during the hottest time of the year.
  • Vardavar - Celebrated in Armenia, this water festival came from both Christian and pagan backgrounds. People go onto the streets and spray one another with water.
  • Sapporo Snow Festival - This Japanese festival is the largest snow and ice festival in the world. It features carvings made from gigantic blocks of ice.
  • Loy Krathong - People gather around lakes, rivers and canals to pay respects to the goddess of water by releasing beautiful lotus shaped rafts decorated with candles, incense and flowers onto the water.
  • New Year's Eve - In Australia, we love to welcome in the new year by celebrating on or near our major waterways:
    • Sydney Harbour & Parramatta River (Sydney)
    • South Bank (Brisbane)
    • Yarra River (Melbourne)
    • River Torrens (Adelaide)
    • Swan River (Perth)
    • Lake Burley Griffin (Canberra)
    • Derwent River (Hobart)
    • Darwin Warf and Harbour (Darwin)
Fireworks over Sydney Harbour Bridge

The major city in every state of Australia celebrates New Year's Eve by a waterway.

Water connecting us to a place

Did you know that about 85% of Australians live within 50 km of the coastline of Australia? People can feel a connection to the place they live through water.

Being near water, on the water or in the water can make many people feel relaxed, calm and connected to the natural environment. How do you feel when you're near water?

In indigenous cultures, the way the water shaped the environment and brings life is important. For thousands of years Aboriginal people have lived with respect for nature and the environment, including water, because all of nature is sacred. Read the dreamtime story of the Illawarra and the five islands.

Girl doing a handstand on the beach

Liveable cities have a positive impact on our wellbeing.


How liveable a place is can indicate the quality of life of the people who live there.

Liveable cities have access to clean, safe drinking water and the removal of wastewater (sanitation). That means our health and wellbeing are being cared for in the places we live.

Access to services and facilities like water, power, communications, transport, healthcare and education provides choices in our lives. For example:
  • how healthy you are
  • what type of recreation you can participate in
  • how far you can go in your education
  • what your employment opportunities are.


There are many places in the world where people don't have good access to clean water and proper sanitation. In fact, about half the world's population doesn't have access to a toilet. Imagine if you didn’t?

What is World Toilet Day?

The cost of water

It costs money to make sure there's high quality, safe water every time you turn on the tap.

Learn more about the cost of water by thinking about water use and conservation.

You might also like to compare our prices with some other countries, like Singapore and Thames Water in the United Kingdom. Remember to convert to Australian dollars!

Future costs of water

When we plan for access to water in the future, we need to think about the number of people who will be living in Sydney and the amount of water available.

Sydney relies on rainfall being collected in dams for its water supply, but rainfall can be unreliable.

To manage future water scarcity, we need to:

As our urban environment grows, there are things we can consider to keep our city liveable: